Bjorn Lomborg, author of Cool It, has a great piece in today’s Wall Street Journal on the need to set global priorities. The basic message is focusing on averting the potential problems associated with global warming which might occur in decades to come is much less urgent than dealing with the big problems we have today. Here is part of the piece:

The pain caused by the global food crisis has led many people to belatedly realize that we have prioritized growing crops to feed cars instead of people. That is only a small part of the real problem.

This crisis demonstrates what happens when we focus doggedly on one specific – and inefficient – solution to one particular global challenge. A reduction in carbon emissions has become an end in itself. The fortune spent on this exercise could achieve an astounding amount of good in areas that we hear a lot less about.

Research for the Copenhagen Consensus, in which Nobel laureate economists analyze new research about the costs and benefits of different solutions to world problems, shows that just $60 million spent on providing Vitamin A capsules and therapeutic Zinc supplements for under-2-year-olds would reach 80% of the infants in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with annual economic benefits (from lower mortality and improved health) of more than $1 billion. That means doing $17 worth of good for each dollar spent. Spending $1 billion on tuberculosis would avert an astonishing one million deaths, with annual benefits adding up to $30 billion. This gives $30 back on the dollar.

I’m sure that I would differ with Lomborg, from a proper-role-of-government perspective, on some of the things he thinks we should do, but his argument for the use of basic cost-benefit analysis is very persuasive. It’s a shame that so much of our policy is driven by what amounts to fads and policy popularity contests rather than sound analysis.